Review by Nicola Smith – Short Book and Scribes
Published by Welbeck 19th August 2021
ISBN 978-1787396241 HB
We all know about Wallis Simpson. She was the woman, hated by everyone, who manipulated King Edward VIII into giving up the throne. But what if what we were always led to believe wasn’t true? Wendy Holden’s fictionalised account of real life events gives us an alternative historical narrative.
The Duchess takes us from 1928, when Wallis and her new husband, Ernest Simpson, arrive in England, right up to 1936, the year of the abdication. Interspersed throughout are chapters following Wallis as she returns to England in 1972 for the Duke of Windsor’s funeral when she comes up against the might of the Royal establishment once again. It’s a fascinating read and one I enjoyed very much.
Wallis ascends the social ladder quite slowly. She longs for excitement but this is a tale of caution and being careful what you wish for. She falls in with the Prince of Wales’ crowd and I loved her interactions with Cecil Beaton, Coco Chanel and various members of the Royal Family. Her refreshing honesty catches the Prince’s eye and Wallis loves that, but she’s a married woman and she knows that eventually the Prince will find himself a suitable wife, one who isn’t once or even twice divorced. Knowing the way this story was going to pan out made the reading of it feel quite bittersweet.
It’s now thought that Wallis wasn’t the big bad wolf after all and that David, as Edward VIII was known, wanted a way out of taking the crown, having always known he wasn’t King material. It’s nice to read an alternative account, one which offers a view of a woman perhaps in a little too deep and of a man desperate for escape. Neither expected to be ostracised for the rest of their lives.
Wendy Holden must have done a lot of research for this book and it shows. It all felt so authentic, whether based on known fact or imagined conversations and events. I was transported to 20s and 30s London, to Fort Belvedere on the Windsor estate, to energetic Charlestons around the room, cocktails, extravagant lunches at the Ritz and so much more.
I’m really enjoying Holden’s series of books about royal outsiders and am very excited about the next one, which will be about Diana, Princess of Wales. In the meantime, I recommend The Duchess for those who enjoy historical fiction based around real events.